Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Christina's Book Club Picks

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Ah, yes. Choosing a book for a book club is difficult, isn't it? I always feel like it's a stressful people-pleasing dilemma: it can't be too long or too difficult or too dirty or too disturbing; you have to take into account the individuals in the group- their backgrounds, interests, and comfort levels- to some extent. But then if you choose something too "safe", the group won't have anything to discuss.
I'm not sure I'm the best person to be offering advice in this department since my book group choices tend to be total flops (like the time only one person showed up for the discussion, or the time only one person finished the book because everyone else was so offended by it that they quit reading). But I'll do my best!

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
There's so much going on in this book: comics, WWII, Antarctica, Judaica, Dali... I could go on and on, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some major ones since it's been a few years. There's plenty to talk about. It's very smartly written, too. (And it has one of my favorite literary crushes.)

2. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
This is a short, sweet, quick read with an unusual plot. It provides some interesting discussion points and Ms. Krauss' style is unusual enough that I think a good book group would be able to talk quite a bit about her writing; it's always nice to be able to move away from the story itself for a few minutes when you've got a good bookish discussion going.

3. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
I've chosen this for book clubs twice, and it has flopped both times. But I still stand by it as a good choice: It's a quick read, but there's a ton to talk about. It's got some political issues that will likely get a heated discussion going, but Kingsolver's presentation isn't too heavy-handed (though I guess that could be debated- all the better!)

4. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
I've already mentioned Ms. Ali in my Inspirational list. This would be a great one to choose if the readers in your club enjoy discussing memoirs that deal with Real Issues. Infidel is a fascinating and eye-opening book for most Westerners, I think.

5. Atonement by Ian McEwan
I adored this book (here's my review) and if I had my druthers I'd make a bookclub read it and watch the film adaptation. Then we'd all compare our supersmart thoughts. And in that ideal world, everyone would love both the book and the movie as much as I do.

6. The Odyssey by Homer and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
I haven't actually read the latter yet, but I will soon. I think it'd be cool to split the book club into teams and have one team read The Odyssey and the other read The Penelopiad. Wouldn't that make for an interesting meeting?

7. Choose your own Award Winner
My mom's book club did this one month- each member chooses a different Newbery Medal book and then at the meeting each person gives a little report about the book they read. I think it's a great way to shake up the routine a little. You could do it with Pulitzer Prize winners or National Book Award winners or Nobel Prize winners.

8. Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
I read this for a book club, and I thought it was a great selection. We discussed apartheid, Paton's beautiful writing, and the symbolism and themes of the novel. This would also be a good book to read and discuss if you're interested in the outsider-writing-about-another-culture idea.

9. All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald
This is another memoir about The Issues (in this case gun control, desegregation busing, poverty/organized crime) that makes for some excellent discussion in a book group. It's an extremely quick read that packs a punch.

10. My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro edited by Jeffrey Eugenides
You thought I could write a whole post without mentioning Mr. Eugenides, right? HA! I'm reading this collection right now, and it would be a great choice for a February book club gathering. There are lots of different styles to compare and contrast, and you could have a really interesting discussion about what constitutes a love story and what doesn't.

Several of these selections are from a period when I was in a GREAT book club. We had awesome, honest discussions that were punctuated with food and drink. When I moved to Kazakhstan, the other bookclubbers gave me The Book Club Cookbook, an awesome compilation of book selections matched with recipes and profiles of real-life book clubs. If you are in a cooking book club, you've got to check it out! A lot of the choices on my list are in the cookbook.

I'm looking forward to your thoughts- have you discussed any of my picks with your book group?